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Detroit Pistons stuck in middle between rebuilding and contending

By NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer
DETROIT — In a league with so many teams either contending or rebuilding, the Detroit Pistons haven’t been doing much of either.
What they did do last season was make a playoff appearance, a rarity in recent years. Now the challenge is to build on that.
“Not saying we’re ready for a championship, but we’re taking some big steps,” coach Dwane Casey said. “This is a bridge. We’re going across it, to continue to improve offensively, defensively, to get to our ultimate goal, which is to win a championship.”
The Pistons have resisted the win big-or-tank model that seems to be all the rage in the NBA. Two seasons ago, they gave up a first-round draft pick in a trade for Blake Griffin. That wasn’t enough to put them in the playoffs in 2018, but they made it a season ago and were immediately swept by Milwaukee.
There’s still a clear gap between Detroit and the top teams in the league, but there’s also enough talent on hand that the Pistons could rise a bit in the Eastern Conference.
Last season was only the second playoff appearance in 10 seasons for this franchise. Winning a round would be another step forward.
“We’re not here just to get by, or just to get into the playoffs,” said Casey, who is entering his second season at the helm.
With Griffin and center Andre Drummond under big contracts, the Pistons haven’t had much roster flexibility and Detroit hasn’t been a prime destination for free agents.